Inclusivity and Decentralisation of Candidate Selectorates: Factional Consequences for Centre-Left Parties in England, Germany, and the United States

AuthorMike Cowburn,Rebecca Kerr
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 292307
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129221081213
Inclusivity and Decentralisation of
Candidate Selectorates: Factional
Consequences for Centre-Left Parties in
England, Germany, and the United States
Mike Cowburn
and Rebecca Kerr
In recent elections, progressivesin centre-left parties have advocated for more democratised processes of candidate
selection. We test whether more inclusive and decentralised selectorates align with highe r numbers of progressive
candidates nominated in national legislative elections by centre-left parties across three advanced western democracies
between 2017 and 2021. In the Labour Party, more centralised selectorates aligned with higher numbers of progressives
selected. For the SPD, we report null f‌indings, likely due to additional incentives for factional co-operation in a multi-
party system. In our most decentralised case, the Democratic Party, selection of progressives was congruent with district
partisanship rather than selectorate inclusivity, with progressives more commonly selected in safe rather than com-
petitive or unfavoured districts. This relationship was not present in our other cases. These f‌indings highlight the
importance of the decentralisation dimension for the factional allegiance of legislative candidates nominated.
social democratic parties, intra-party, factions, candidate selection, primaries
Nomination of legislative candidates has long been
considered among the most important functions of po-
litical parties, with consequences for party ownership
(Schattschneider 1942, 101), control (Ranney 1981, 103),
and as a def‌ining feature that universally distinguishes
parties from other political organizations(Sartori 1976,
64). Indeed, recent theorizing about parties places nom-
inations at the heart of what parties are (Bawn et al. 2012).
Candidate selections reveal intra-party dynamics, as an
acid test of how democratically they conduct their internal
affairs(Gallagher 1988, 1). Despite widespread ac-
knowledgement of the importance of nominations, the
empirical consequences of variance in the rules of se-
lection remain poorly understood, particularly in terms of
the factional allegiances of legislative candidates selected.
We test these consequences for the Labour Party in
England, the German Sozialdemokratische Partei
Deutschlands (SPD) and the Democratic Party in the
United States, using the spatial and temporal variation
present within each case. These parties are three of the
oldest of their kind, whose trends and intra-party
dynamics resonate to other advanced western democra-
cies. We contend that each party has a bi-factional
structurewith comparative moderate and progressive
factionswhich structures intra-party conf‌lict. We con-
sider factional aff‌iliations of candidates for national
legislative off‌ice based on variation in selection processes.
In these parties, the factions have competing views on the
role of intra-party democracy, meaning the candidate
selection process is itself a site of factional conf‌lict.
In recent decades, candidate selection has targeted by
reformers in centre-left parties, often aligned with the
progressive faction, to foster connection with voters (Bille
2001;Totz 2011) in response to electoral decline and
falling membership numbers (Benedetto, Hix, and
Graduate School of North American Studies, Freie Universit¨
at Berlin,
Berlin, Germany
School of HAPP, Queens University Belfast, Belfast, UK
Corresponding Author:
Rebecca Kerr, School of HAPP, Queens University Belfast, 25
University Square, Belfast BT71NN, UK.
Mastrorocco 2020). These parties have been marred by
claims that they are out-of-touch elites who have aban-
doned core party values, traditionally understood as a
struggle of solidarity (Müller 1999). Contemporarily, a
vigorous debate has emerged about electoral revitalisation
(Abou-Chadi and Wagner 2019,2020); should parties
pursue left-leaning movement-based politicsas advo-
cated by politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie
Sandersor attempt to reignite their Third Way successes
by adopting comparatively moderate policy positions? A
key component of these debates has been the extent to
which parties should bring the members back in(Hopkin
2001) as part of the candidate selectorate; those re-
sponsible for selecting candidates. Given recent calls for
greater intra-party democratisation across these parties,
how do selection processes relate to the ideological
identity of legislative candidates nominated? More spe-
cif‌ically, given that these demands largely originate from
progressives in these parties, to what extent do more
openselectorates correspond to greater numbers of
progressive-aligned candidates being selected for national
legislative off‌ice? Given the differences between our cases
we focus on within-case variation.
Existing literature conceives two main dimensions of
selectorate openness: inclusivity and decentralisation
(Gallagher 1988;Hazan and Rahat 2010;Hopkin 2001;
Katz and Mair 1995;Lundell 2004;Rahat and Hazan
2001;Ranney 1981). In the Labour Party, groups such as
Momentum have advocated for greater selectorate in-
clusivity as a mechanism to recruit more diverse MPs
(Parker 2018). In the SPD, recent democratisation has also
resulted in greater involvement in candidate selection by
ordinary members (Detterbeck 2016) with reforms at the
national level, introduction of primaries in Land (state)
elections, and efforts to include even non-party members
in the process (Detterbeck 2013). In the U.S., the highly
inclusive and decentralised primary system has been
blamed for producing extreme candidates and contrib-
uting to polarization in Congress (Brady, Han, and Pope
2007;Kamarck, Podkul, and Zeppos 2016;Schumer
2014). Despite this criticism, states have continued to
enact reforms making selectorates more inclusive, such as
shifting from closed to open primaries. In each case, the
inclusivity dimension is the focus of reform efforts, with
comparatively little attention given to decentralisation.
We consider the relative importance of inclusivity and
decentralisation in nominating progressive candidates
within our cases. To do so, we use the framework es-
tablished by Reuven Hazan and Gideon Rahat (Hazan and
Rahat 2010;Rahat and Hazan 2001) and applied else-
where in the literature (e.g. Shomer 2014;Spies and
Kaiser 2014).
Given the contemporary prominence of progressives
demanding more internal party democracy, we restrict our
analysis to recent variation in candidate selection pro-
cesses. We analyse the period from 2017 to 2021, in-
cluding the last two national legislative elections in each
case. We select these parties due to their prominence in the
literature on social democratic parties, their inf‌luence on
centre-left parties globally, the countriesdifferent elec-
toral and party systems, and their common position as the
leading exponants of Third Way politics. We also note a
paucity of comparative intra-party literature including the
U.S. alongside European cases.
Our research question focuses on the alignment be-
tween inclusivity and decentralisation of legislative
candidate selectorates, and the rate of progressive can-
didates selected in three centre-left parties. Theoretically,
our expectations are derived from John Maysspecial law
of curvilinear disparity(1973). Greater inclusivity and,
especially, centralisation of Labour selectorates aligned
with the nomination of greater numbers of progressive
candidates under Corbyn, in line with theoretical literature
suggesting that inclusivity without decentralisation can
strengthen the control of party leadership over candidate
outcomes (Cross and Katz 2013;Hazan and Rahat 2010;
Scarrow 1999). We report null f‌indings for the SPD, with
minimal differences in the factional identity of candi-
dates with spatial variation in selection processes, likely
balance selections in multi-party electoral systems. In the
Democratic Party, we f‌ind that the nomination of pro-
gressives was better explained by district partisanship
rather than spatial variation in the inclusivity of primary
election participation, potentially due to the decentral-
ised selection process. More inclusive selection pro-
cesses did not align with higher numbers of progressive
candidates being selected in the SPD or Democratic
Party, suggesting that progressive demands for intra-
party democratisation are made, at least in part, out of
conviction rather than for electoral benef‌it. Methodo-
logically, we offer a qualitative approach linking can-
didate selection processes with factional allegiance of
candidates selected, replicable for other parties with
identif‌iable factions. Our f‌indings highlight the impor-
tance of the decentralisation dimension of candidate
selection, frequently overlooked by political scientists
and reform advocates alike.
We proceed as follows: f‌irst, we present the theo-
retical background which shapes our assumptions
about candidate selection, as well as details of the
framework that we follow. We then present our cases
and expand our theorizing about factions in these
parties. Next, we explain selection processes in each
party, and position selectorates along both dimensions.
Following this, we introduce our data and research
design. Finally, we present and discuss the results of
our empirical models.
Cowburn and Kerr 293

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